by Tom Beadle
I'm a big fan of getting physical when I travel, which means I've been fortunate (or unfortunate, some might say) enough to have shed my blood, sweat and tears on various trekking tracks all over the world. But I wasn't prepared for the physical (and surprisingly emotional) gaunlet Papua New Guinea's Kokoda Track laid down for me.
That said, there was a brilliant mix of people in my group - varying ages, varying levels of fitness, I was genuinely surprised - and the vast majority managed to finish the thing. I was also surprised by how close everyone was to their porters by the end of the trip - the war history was moving and the trekking was challenging, but having those guys there all day to literally catch you if you fall just adds another element to the trip I wasn't expecting. They were incredible.
Unfortunately, your porter won't be able to carry you the whole way. So now I'm back in one (slightly more worn out) piece, I thought the least I could do was to try and prepare you for the challenge that is the Kokoda Track. Whether you're about to depart on your Kokoda adventure or if it's nothing more than a twinkle in your eye - here are some first-hand insights.
1. Your well-trained legs
The inclines and declines are seriously steep in parts, with very little of the trail’s 96km being flat. You can walk at your own pace but the more aerobic and leg strength training you do beforehand, the more you’ll enjoy the experience. Each ascent of the trail’s many peaks is like a mini work out; if it has been wet each descent can resemble a slippery slide. This is tough walking.
2. A good quality thermarest
You'll sleep in purpose built huts in the local villages dotted along the trail. The views into the surrounding valleys are often magnificent but the facilities are undeniably basic, with a thermarest or sleeping mat on the floor sufficing as a bed. On more than one night my creaky old back cried out for a comfy blow-up lilo. Don't say I didn't warn you.
3. The book “Kokoda”
A basic knowledge of the outnumbered Australian soldiers’ resistance to the advancing Japanese forces along the trail in 1942 is a must when trekking Kokoda. Peter FitzSimons’ gripping account provides fascinating insights into some of the personalities who fought along the trail. To read of the horrific battles which took place in villages like Isurava and Brigade Hill while actually sitting in that location is a poignant experience indeed. Highly recommended.
4. Your best singing voice
Most of our wonderful guides and porters come from villages along the track and they take the meaning of 'personalised client attention' to new levels by helping the group along the trail, guiding step-by-step where needed. Their beautiful renditions of gospel harmonies were a magical endnote to each day’s walking and it was impossible not to join in our appropriately named theme song: 'It’s not an easy road'.
5. Your 'touchy-feely' side
Trekking Kokoda is an emotional experience. The combination of the physical challenge, moving wartime history and the incredible humility and caring of our local porters and guides was powerful and tears were shed as we reached the final destination at Owens Corner. It was a privilege to be there.
Feeling inspired? Get out there and challenge Kokoda yourself with Peregrine.